Bob Kelso was one of the most distinguished Scottish players during the country’s international football golden age of the 1880s, an era that included a nine-year-long unbeaten run. Born in Renton, he was part of his home-town team when they won the Scottish FA Cup in 1885, the same year he became an international. In 1888 he was part of the Renton team that beat the English FA Cup holders, West Bromwich Albion, and thus became known as ‘World Champions’.
Like many Scottish footballers in this era, he journeyed south in search of a living from the game he played so well – professionalism being prohibited in Scotland until the 1890s. After a spell with Newcastle West End he signed for Everton, but made just one appearance, against Preston North End in January 1889. Evidently he did enough to impress Everton’s opponents, for he left to join them at the season’s end and would claim League Championship honours with them in 1890.
Everton re-signed Kelso over the summer of 1891 and he replaced Dan Kirkwood, who had served as half back in the League Championship winning team, occasionally deputising at right back too. Indeed, on one occasion, against Aston Villa in September 1892, he even deputised for the injured David Jardine in goal. He soon earned plaudits of watching reporters. ‘The work done by Kelso since his inclusion in the team is of the highest order, and if there was as reliable a man on the opposite wing, the half backs would be complete,’ reported the Daily Post. ‘He was widely respected as a no-nonsense defender with a granite tackle – which occasionally bordered on bone crunching,’ added David France and David Prentice in their history of the era, Virgin Blues.
Kelso’s finest hour came in an FA Cup semi-final second replay against Preston North End at Trent Bridge. Playing at right back, the Scot was immense as Everton overcame their opponents 2-1 to reach their first FA Cup Final. ‘[Bob] Howarth and Kelso, in particular had to exert themselves to the utmost and but for their Herculean work Everton must have met with a reverse,’ reported the Liverpool Mercury. Another reporter noted: ‘Kelso sustained his later-day form, and his clean kicking did much in the cause of victory.’
Kelso lost his place to James Adams during the 1895/96 season and at the end of the campaign was sold to Dundee for £35. Back in his homeland he regained his place in the national team.